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This is a question that it seems throws up a huge debate and it’s one that has been asked for decades. For a while now I’ve been in the camp that thinks drugs should be legalised and I’ve privately argued for it whenever the topic has come up.

The recent series on Channel 4 titled “Our Drugs War” set out the reasons for Angus Macqueen’s belief that drugs should be legal and in doing so pushed the issue into the mainstream. So I have decided to go public with my support for the legalisation of drugs and set out my reasons.

Firstly I’d like to point out that supporting legalisation is an entirely reasonable and logical position to hold and that it does not automatically follow that in holding such a belief I support the use of drugs. I say this because people have suggested to me that by arguing for legalisation I must therefore agree with the use of all drugs.

This, I believe, is too simplistic a view. It relies on the assumption that it is the job of the government to eradicate anything that is bad and I do not believe that is their job.

In looking at the question of whether drugs should be legal we have to work out why exactly they are illegal. This is rather difficult to pinpoint. Most people I speak to say they are illegal because they cause harm, both to health and society. I have to say I accept that they cause harm but it seems a jump in logic to say that alone is sufficient reason for drugs being illegal. Surely if this were the reason drugs were illegal then tobacco would be as well? As well as alcohol which, arguably, causes much more societal damage than drugs. It seems, then, that there are many harmful things the government feel they shouldn’t ban and so it cannot be said drugs are illegal purely because they cause harm.

Aside from this argument some believe that by making these ‘dangerous’ substances illegal it will discourage their use and therefore reduce the harm on society. But this is not working! Drugs are very readily available. I’d have no problem locating drugs if I wanted to so this argument doesn’t stack up either. It cannot stand up to logic.

It seems much more evident that we ban drugs because of a moral argument against using them. We made a decision some time ago that using certain substances wasn’t acceptable. But nobody can really say why.

The main reason all of these arguments fall down is that drug use is too widespread in our society. We might not like this fact but it is inescapable. There are many substances humans use to change how they feel. These are all drugs. Some are stronger than others but ultimately they are all the same. So if you have a few glasses of wine to relax after a hard day at work you are using drugs. If you drink caffeine for energy you are using drugs. If you smoke you are using drugs. If you take prescribed medication to improve your mood you are using drugs. If you go clubbing and get really drunks you are using drugs. I could go on, so why is it that if you use a substance on the banned list you’re instantly viewed as a criminal?

The desire to use substances to affect how we feel has existed since we discovered it was possible. Ancient tribes used plants to enter the “spirit realm” and drugs have been used in religious ceremonies for centuries. To think we can eradicate this desire is naive. The problem, in my opinion, is addiction.

It is the addiction to substances which causes the damage to society, not the substance itself. This damage is spread across a whole spectrum of substances some illegal and some legal. Banning the substance, whilst doing nothing at all to deal with reasons behind the addiction, solves nothing. But this is exactly what we do. We offer help to those who seek it and criminalise those who don’t always realise the scope of their problem.

Not only is the current approach not working though, but I fully agree with the position advanced by the Channel 4 documentary: that the current approach is making the problem worse.

By making drugs illegal, and ignoring the fact that the demand for drugs is going nowhere, we force those seeking out drugs into the illegal world. We force them to get involved with drug dealers, who in turn are often involved in larger crime. The many deaths linked to the drugs trade occur because the stakes are so high. The stakes are so high because drugs are illegal. Drugs are often cut with dangerous things because they can be; nobody is regulating the industry and so the dealers can do whatever they want. The result is that nobody truly knows how much of a substance they’re actually taking and this makes the risk of overdose higher.

In the UK 40% of our prison population are there because of drug crimes. Most of these are not the big shot traffickers but small time dealers. Once in jail their chances of finding proper employment are slashed and we push them towards yet more drug dealing when they’re released as it’s all they know. We surround them with other criminals thus increasing the chances of them getting involved in more crime. Are these people really dangerous criminals who need to be off the street? Would they have been committing crime if drugs weren’t illegal?

The dangers and penalties involved in the movement of drugs push the end street price up astronomically. When coupled with the fact that a gram bag of a given drug actually contains nowhere near a gram it makes the cost higher still. Addicts then commit petty crime to fund their habit because of this high price, causing yet more societal harm.

In recent months much has been written in the UK press about legal drugs. These drugs exist to fulfil the demand for substances and in many ways can be more dangerous because we know nothing about them or their effects. As soon as the government knows of a new substance they make it illegal but this does nothing to stop the problem. People turn to another substance instead. This cycle will continue unless we address the reasons for the drug use.

To me the harm attributable to the legal status of drugs speaks for itself. It seems quite obvious to me, but to many they still just automatically think drugs should be illegal.

A world with legal drugs would stop the dangerous cutting of drugs, free up many prison places and would reduce the risk of overdosing. But more importantly than all of this it would rid us of drug cartels and it would take the trade of drugs out of the hands of criminals forever.

If alongside this we changed our approach towards addiction and did more to combat it then the harm to society would be slashed. Isn’t this what the aim should be? The policy that has the best effect on society?

Whether it is morally wrong to use drugs is an argument for another time. But I will say that, theoretically, I think adults should be free to do what they want to their own bodies providing nobody else is harmed. Unfortunately most of the time others are harmed by drugs use, not to mention the strain put on the health service. So while I do not condone drug use outright I think it is time to legalise drugs.


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